Although deadlifts are often considered to be the primary posterior chain exercise, there are also some great strength training exercises that isolate muscles within the posterior chain for a more targeted workout. One such exercise is the hip thrust.
Hip thrusts are sometimes considered to be an exercise “cousin” or alternative exercise to the glute bridge for the glutes, but the muscles worked by hip thrusts extend beyond the glutes, and as such, there are several benefits of hip thrusts vs glute bridges.
But, what muscles do hip thrusts work? Are the muscles worked by hip thrusts the same as the muscles worked by glute bridges?
In this exercise guide, we will discuss the benefits of hip thrusts, how to perform them, hip thrust exercise variations, the differences between hip thrusts muscles vs glute bridge muscles worked, and ultimately answer your question, “What do hip thrusts work?”
We will look at:
- How To Do The Hip Thrust Exercise
- What Do Hip Thrusts Work?
- Tips for Performing Hip Thrusts
- How to Target Different Hip Thrust Muscle Groups
Let’s get started!
How To Do The Hip Thrust Exercise
Before we can have a meaningful discussion about the muscles worked by hip thrusts, it is helpful to understand how to perform the hip thrust exercise properly.
Here is how to do a hip thrust:
- Rest your shoulder blades and upper back along the long side of a weight bench with your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, and your knees bent to 90 degrees. Your body should be bridged off of the weight bench so that your hips are up at the height of the bench but out in space unsupported by the bench. Instead, you should be squeezing your glutes and core muscles to hold this bridge position with your knees bent 90° and your shins perpendicular to the ground.
- Place a barbell along the crease of your hips just below the bony prominence of the front of your hip bones but above your pubic region. You can use a towel underneath the barbell for comfort.
- Slowly lower your butt down towards the floor, allowing your knees to travel naturally back inward towards your body.
- Don’t touch all the way down on the ground with your butt; hover just above the ground and pause here for 1 to 2 seconds.
- Press powerfully through your heels as you squeeze your glutes to raise your hips back up to the tabletop position. Your thighs should be parallel to the ground at the top of the rep. Your shins should be vertical, and you should engage your core muscles to support your spine and keep your pelvis level and parallel to the floor.
- Pause at the top of the movement and contract your glutes for 2-3 seconds.
- Slowly lower your butt back towards the floor to begin the next rep.
What Do Hip Thrusts Work?
So, what muscles do hip thrusts work? Hip thrusts and glute bridges both target the glutes.
However, because your hips are elevated on a weight bench, you can achieve a greater range of motion with the hip thrust vs glute bridge.
The rest of the adductor muscle group, which are the muscles along your inner thighs, along with the smaller glute muscles like the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, are also muscles strengthened by hip thrusts.
These are considered to be synergists or assistants to the prime movers of the hip thrust exercise.
Additional muscles worked by hip thrusts that help provide stability include the erector spinae group in the lower back, the quads on the front of the thigh, the hip flexor muscle group (including the iliopsoas and the rectus femoris), and the abdominal muscles of the core.
Tips for Performing Hip Thrusts
There are a couple of common form and technique mistakes when performing hip thrusts.
Any of these mistakes can reduce the effectiveness of the strengthening benefits of the hip thrusts muscles worked and can increase the risk of injuries, particularly to your lower back, knees, and hip flexors.
Here are some common hip thrusts mistakes to be mindful of when performing this exercise in your posterior chain workouts or glute workouts:
#1: Foot Placement
Getting the right foot placement for the hip thrust exercise is important to protect your knees and to ensure that your glute muscles worked by hip thrusts are in the optimal position to contract powerfully.
Firstly, as long as you are performing normal bilateral hip thrusts rather than single-leg hip thrusts, you want your feet to be hip-width apart in their natural spacing to prevent excessive torque on your hips and knees.
More importantly, the distance that you place your feet from the bench will impact the hip thrusts muscles worked to some degree.
The closer your feet are to the bench, the more that the muscles worked by hip thrusts will emphasize the quads.
The further out your heels are from the legs of the weight bench, the muscles worked by hip thrusts will shift somewhat to have more of an emphasis on the hamstrings.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with playing around with your feet to deliberately shift how you are targeting the muscles worked by hip thrusts and the relative reliance on each hip thrust muscle group.
However, if you really want to target the glutes, you should try to have your shins perpendicular to the floor, and your knees bent 90°.
Furthermore, if you are doing heavy hip thrusts with a barbell, placing your feet too close or too far from the bench and away from this 90° angle in the knee can put excessive stress and strain on the knee and ankle joints, respectively.
This is particularly true in cases where you are trying to target the quads by scooting your heels closer to the bench.
This will cause your knees to track forward beyond your toes as you drop down, which can put excessive stress on the knee joint in the same way that squatting without sitting your hips back so that your knees go beyond your toes.
#2: Not Tucking Your Chin
Make sure to keep your chin tucked down towards your sternum when you press your hips back up from the floor in order to prevent putting excessive pressure on your spine.
#3: Not Locking Your Hips Out
In order to maximize the workload on the glute muscles strengthened by hip thrusts, you really need to use the complete range of motion.
This means that you want to get to the full lockout position at the top of the hip thrust exercise, which means that the front of your hips (ASIS) should be above the level of your knees, almost to the point that you feel a slight stretch in your hip flexors.
If you are finding that you cannot get into the full hip extension lockout, you are probably lifting too much weight; scale down the dumbbell or barbell weight until you can use the maximum range of motion.
#4: Hyperextending Your Low Back
Even though you want to get into full extension at the top of the hip thrust to maximize the strengthening benefits for your glutes, you need to be careful not to hyperextend or over-arch your lower back.
In order to prevent this issue, deliberately think about engaging your abs to keep your lower back flat like a table rather than arched like a tunnel.
This will also augment the strengthening benefits of the core muscles worked by hip thrusts.
#5: Wrong Pacing
The muscles worked by hip thrusts will get a much more effective strengthening workout if you go as slowly as possible as you lower your butt towards the floor for the eccentric portion of the exercise and then explode powerfully through your heels as you press back up into the full lockout position.
Going too fast on the way down is just using gravity to your advantage and not maximizing the time under tension for the hip thrust muscles.
How to Target Different Hip Thrust Muscle Groups
Although the short answer to the question: “What do hip thrusts work?“ is the glutes, the list of muscles worked by hip thrusts includes more than just the glutes.
Moreover, how you perform hip thrusts in terms of different ways you can modify the exercise can alter the hip thrust muscle groups that you are targeting to some degree.
Here are a couple of variations of hip thrusts to target slightly different muscles:
Single-Leg Barbell Hip Thrusts
The unilateral hip thrust exercise is one of the best hip thrust variations to load the glutes and really develop power, strength, and size.
Plus, since you are only working one leg at a time, the single-leg hip thrust muscles worked are shifted somewhat more to the gluteus medius and minimus and adductors to help stabilize your hips and pelvis.
Unilateral exercises also help you identify and correct muscle imbalances—so in this case, the single-leg hip thrust is a great exercise for strengthening muscle imbalances in your glutes and hips.
Here are the steps for this advanced hip thrust exercise variation:
- Place your shoulder blades on the long side of a bench with your body bridging off the side with your hips up in a tabletop position, your knees are bent 90 degrees, your feet are hip-width apart and flat on the floor, and your core and glutes are engaged.
- Rest the barbell across the crease in your hips. You can lay a towel across the front of your pelvis and rest the barbell on top of the towel if you find that the metal barbell bothers your anatomy.
- Lift one foot off the ground and straighten the knee out so that you are only pressing through the other foot.
- Slowly lower your hips towards the floor.
- Pause when your butt is nearly on the floor.
- Press through your heel to explode back up to the top position, where your thighs are parallel to the ground.
- Complete all of your reps and then switch sides.
Smith Machine Hip Thrusts
While it can be argued that the Smith machine hip thrust is a less functional exercise for the muscles worked by hip thrusts than a barbell or a dumbbell hip thrust because the machine dictates the path of motion in a single plane, there are benefits of adding this hip thrust exercise to your glutes workouts for mass.
Firstly, because the Smith machine confines the movement to one plane, you remove the need to recruit stabilizing muscles in the hips and glutes worked by hip thrusts.
You also don’t have to worry about balancing the barbell across your lap as you perform the exercise because it is affixed to the uprights in the track of the Smith machine.
Finally, the safeties on the Smith machine allow you to lift heavier loads without a spotter through the full range of motion for the hip thrust exercise, increasing your potential gains in strength and hypertrophy.
This allows you to lift heavier loads for Smith machine hip thrusts, which, in turn, leads to a greater muscle-building stimulus for the hip thrusts muscles worked, namely the gluteus maximus.